KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA has decided it dare not meddle in the geopolitical stand-off between Israel and Palestine, not even when it comes to sport.
For the past four years the world football federation has come up with all sorts of devices – task forces, commissions, monitoring visits – to put off the awful day when it had to make up its mind. That day was today and the decision was . . . no decision.
According to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, speaking after a council meeting in Kolkata on the of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Final between England and Spain: “The matter is closed.”
The Israel Football Association will be delighted but the Palestine FA infuriated at FIFA’s acceptance of the status quo which sees clubs from the controversial West Bank settlements playing in the Israeli league. The PFA considers this a deliberate flouting of FIFA statutes.
Back in 2010 and 2011 the then International Olympic Committee leader Jacques Rogge as well as Sepp Blatter, in the last years of his FIFA reign, indulged in shuttle diplomacy. Some uneasy progress was achieved in terms of the ease of movement – or lack of it – of players and equipment.
Blatter’s FIFA then empowered a monitoring commission led by South African anti-apartheid campaigner turned businessman Tokyo Sexwale. He came up against a brick wall and Infantino thus determined a decision by FIFA Council today.
Choosing his words carefully, Infantino said: “Council has taken note of all the different documents of the whole history which Tokyo Sexwale presented about issues which have been [going on] since 10,000 years and not solved yet so football is not going to solve them either.
“The situation is characterised by exceptional complexity and great sensitivity due to circumstances that cannot be changed unilaterally by a non-governmental organisation like FIFA. We see where our limits are.
“These territories are a concern for the international public law authorities and FIFA has to remain neutral .
“It was also felt that any interference by FIFA in the status quo could aggravate the football situation not only in the territories but in the greater regions. Therefore council has decided to refrain from imposing any sanctions and declared the matter closed until the legal and or de facto framework has changed.
“Some progress has been made in the last few years with regard to the movement of players, officials and equipment in and out and within Palestine and these aspects will continue.”
Later, just in case anyone missed the point, he said: “Council has taken a decision to close the matter.”
It will not remain closed for long. In January the Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to rule on an appeal by the PFA against FIFA’s refusal to take a decision at congress in Bahrain last May.
The PFA may also launch a further CAS protest over FIFA’s latest decision to take no further action on the settlements issue.
Formal FIFA statement:
Following the report submitted by the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine chaired by Tokyo Sexwale and after a thorough legal consultation process, the FIFA Council has agreed on a position with regard to the administration of football in the West Bank territories.
The FIFA Council takes note of the documents adopted by international governmental bodies concerning the relationship between Israel and Palestine – such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which comprises recommendations without sanctions – but has decided that it should not take any position on their contents.
The FIFA Council acknowledges that the current situation is, for reasons that have nothing to do with football, characterised by an exceptional complexity and sensitivity and by certain de facto circumstances that can neither be ignored nor changed unilaterally by non-governmental organisations such as FIFA. Given that the final status of the West Bank territories is the concern of the competent international public law authorities, the FIFA Council agrees that FIFA, in line with the general principle established in its Statutes, must remain neutral with regard to political matters.
Furthermore, it was agreed that any interference by FIFA in the status quo of football in the relevant territories without the consent of the parties concerned might aggravate the situation of football not only in the territories in question, but also in the greater region affected – which would not be in the best interests of the game.
Therefore, the FIFA Council has decided to refrain from imposing any sanctions or other measures on either the Israel FA or the Palestinian FA, as well as from requesting any other FIFA body to do so. The matter is declared closed and will not be the subject of any further discussion until the legal and/or de facto framework has changed.
With that said, the FIFA administration will continue to facilitate the movement of players, officials and football equipment in, out of, and within Palestine — the aspect on which the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine has covered the most ground and achieved a positive response.